I can always find an excuse to talk about Metallica. If that excuse comes in the form of an obscure collectible I only recently learned existed, then all the better.
A random eBay scroll showed me the above cover, and I knew I had to own this. I didn’t know why Metallica are defiling graves and look like they’re straight out of a He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon, but I damn sure wanted to know. Its existence doesn’t surprise me in the slightest since the band remain one of the most highly-merchandized bands in the business. It’s the third unauthorized Metallica that has entered my collection, with the first being from the Rock n Roll Comics line, and the second of which I will save for a future article. However, while those two follow a biographical format, this Metal Thunder comic is unquestionably a work of fiction. If not, the band is way more badass than I ever imagined.
What epic adventures do Metallica partake in during this issue? Do we see them team up to stop whatever that monstrosity was on Pantera’s Metal Magic album cover? Does Flotzilla come back for revenge on Jason Newsted for leaving Flotsam and Jetsam? Or does the cover say all and they just get drunk on Halloween night and take the neighbourhood House of Horrors exhibit a bit too seriously? None of the above, but that’s not to say this comic isn’t inventive in its approach.
The comic is divided into two short stories, the first called “Step Dude” and the second being “Hallowed Ground”. “Step Dude” is a tale written in the style of a Tales from the Crypt story, giving the role of the Cryptkeeper to Cliff Burton, Metallica’s bassist who died in a bus crash in 1986. The role seems perfect for him, as he was a big fan of horror movies and imagery, often being seen on-stage decked out in a Dawn of the Dead t-shirt (assuming his Misfits shirts weren’t in the wash) paired with his trademark bell-bottoms and denim jacket. The band also merchandised a tour shirt that parodied the cover of the old comic series. I remember that I almost asked for this shirt as a gift back in high school, but opted for the classic Ride the Lightning one with the guy getting electrocuted on the back. As a side-note, I really wanted to wear this shirt to school on a “Non-Uniform Day” (we normally wore uniforms as it was a Catholic school), but feared that the graphic depiction would get me sent home. I wore it anyway, and it was pretty much my biggest act of rebellion as a teenager. Naturally, it went unnoticed by all figures of authority.
Anyway, “Step Dude” is essentially a tale of vengeance for three brothers whose mother remarries a big, oafish rich man that the brothers develop an instant dislike of. The brothers each fit classic teenage tropes, one looking like a nerd, one the jock, and the other a metal-head. They are left in their new mansion home to be watched by their step-dad’s linebacker-of-a-maid while the newlyweds go on their honeymoon. After being put through the ringer by their temporary guardian, they call their mom in an effort to complain, but her husband reprimands the boys since they are making an expensive long-distance call. Looking for an answer on how to solve their problem, the metal-lover introduces his two brothers to Metallica, plays them “The Thing That Should Not Be” and draws a pentagram on the floor.
What’s the significance of this pseudo-Satanic ritual? Since I don’t want to give too much away, I’ll leave it there. Keep in mind that it’s a horror story, so don’t expect them to buy flowers for the maid or gain a newfound respect for their step-dad.
The second story has a few pages of a prologue of sorts. It show Cliff Burton in the afterlife, where an angel-like figure tells Cliff of the super powers his friends (the four members of Metallica) have back on Earth. For some reason, the woman’s appearance transforms from the beginning to the end to look less angelic and more like Madonna dressed in a sexy nurse’s uniform. It makes sense in a way considering she calls herself Nurse Julia, but the Madonna resemblance has me wondering if that was typical of her stage attire at one point or if I’m getting things confused with Weird Al’s “Like A Surgeon” video.
While I found that bizarre, it was all forgotten by the time it segued into the “Hallowed Ground” story. It starts out as typically as any other day, with Metallica hanging out on a sunny day in the park with a couple of roadie buddies. Not much of a premise to begin with, but before the guys can get their burgers to “Jump In The Fire” (place them gently on the barbecue), some rivals of theirs drop by and start taking out their roadies one-by-one in a scene that makes Frank Castle’s family picnic look like Holy Communion. These aren’t just regular rivals, but metal legends in their own right. You get the Metal God himself, Rob Halford, accompanied by Judas Priest’s twin-guitar attack of Glenn Tipton and KK Downing. The Scorpions were there as well, but they were more preoccupied with lawn darts and lunch (seriously) to bother instigating a one-sided fight with innocent civilians.
The Metallica members wait for Nurse Julia’s signal before they can take action. It seems rather strange that she doesn’t ask them to intervene until virtually everybody in the park had been reduced to roadkill, or even that she doesn’t use her medical training to assist anybody, but at least she eventually aids Metallica. Each one of them transforms to take on a power of one of the Earth’s elements, with James Hetfield granted the power of rain, Lars Ulrich gets the thunder, Jason Newsted the wind, and Kirk Hammett the lightning. By this point in the story, it was beginning to feel like a Captain Planet / Metalocalypse crossover episode.
They do their thing and take out the three-fifths of Priest with their swords and fantastic powers, but the battle doesn’t end there. One time bandmate and current Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine appears out of nowhere simply because Hetfield has acquired the taste for blood that he ironically disapproved of Judas Priest for demonstrating mere minutes earlier. Regardless, Mustaine enters the fray to accept Hetfield’s challenge. With the hope of putting an end to one of the longest lasting internet message board debates of them all, the two finally attempt to best one another… in a shirtless mud-wrestling match.
No, they just have another sword fight, and I swear I stumbled across that homoerotic fan-fic forum by accident.
If you think that’s where the battle peaks, well.. scroll back up to that Priest panel I shared because you’ve got another thing coming! I’ve got to give you reason to seek the issue out yourself, which is highly amusing to this longtime Metallica fan, and was rather affordable too. The stories are nothing groundbreaking, but if you ever viewed your favourite rock stars like they were literal rock gods, this comic showcases that more than any I have seen to date, and made me want to know if there were others in the series. There must have been, considering that this comic is labelled as Number 2. The potential may have been even greater for other rock or metal bands to justify more of these existing. I’m sure you could use Ozzy Osbourne’s bat-biting incident to give a Peter Parker-inspired backstory for a new hero. Or you could use the time he bit the head off a dove. Or the time he snorted a line of ants.
The inside of the back cover does advertise a whole other series of comics under the Rock Fantasy Comics umbrella. I may check out some of these down the road to see if they have more of what I’m looking for.
As for the Metal Thunder series, I can confirm that more existed. One more. The first issue was dedicated to hair metal bad-boys Motley Crue. While they never clash with Metallica in this second issue, the first issue could very well have housed such a story. All I’ve ever seen is the outside of that particular comic, and all I can say from that is the following:
Hey, Vince, WHY THE LONG FACE?